So far we have looked at how ESPN.com's scouting wing has ranked each of the AFC West teams at Quarterback, Running Back and Wide Receiver. That quickly a trend has emerged that should surprise no one. The AFC West figures to be a two "horse" race in 2007. Will Tight End change that at all? Let's find out....
1. San Diego Chargers --
Antonio Gates has been one of the most productive tight ends in the league over the past four seasons. Gates is an excellent combination of size, athleticism and hand dexterity. He has been one of the most impressive college free-agent acquisitions in recent memory. Gates is an excellent route runner who shows natural receiving skills and versatility to pressure defensive coordinators to game plan the tight end position. He's also an above-average blocker. The depth at the position comes with great size and effective blocking with Brandon Manumaleuna and a huge rookie in Scott Chandler.
My Take -- Little surprise here. Like the running backs, the AFC West has two of the best Tight Ends in all of football. Antonio Gates showed the Broncos in last season why many think he is the best in the business. Gates runs more like a receiver, but has the size and can block like a lineman. Manumaleuna gives the Chargers a true TE, but Manu can also pull down the rock and gives Philip Rivers two legitimate weapons on offense. In a league predicated by 2-TE sets, having two productive tight ends is a must.
2. Kansas City Chiefs --
Tony Gonzalez is an excellent combination of size and athleticism. He has been the most productive tight end over the past 10 seasons. His red-zone numbers have been down the past two seasons, but his ability to stretch deep zones and align in several different positions within an offensive scheme make defenses have to game plan for him. He is a solid blocker and uses his length and athleticism to tie up defenders at the point of attack. His size and leaping ability make him a tough matchup for the shorter safeties and linebackers in the league. Behind Gonzalez, the Chiefs have Jason Dunn, primarily a blocker who can set the edge, and Kris Wilson, an H-back who brings versatility to the offense.
My Take -- How unfortunate it is to be a Chiefs fan. Talk about unbalanced. We've looked at four positions. The Chiefs are in the Top 2 in two of them and near the bottom in the other two. While Gonzalez is still one of the best it will be interesting to see if he can earn the hughe extension he signed late last year. Unfortunately for Gonzo the Chiefs QB situation is a train-wreck at best. Behind Gonzalez is Jason Dunn, a solid blocker. Kris Wilson has yet to justify a 2nd round selection, so it is questionable at best to say just how much "versatility" Wilson brings to the Chiefs offense. A bit overrated as a unit.
13. Denver Broncos --
The acquisition of Daniel Graham has made Denver's tight end situation very solid. Graham is a six-year veteran who saw his role in New England diminished. He will have the opportunity to be a go-to guy for Jay Cutler as an inside receiver. Graham has effective receiving skills (good hands, route running, etc.) and is an above-average blocker at the point. Veteran backup Stephen Alexander can be an effective receiver if he can stay healthy. He doesn't have great speed, but shows enough foot agility and quickness to get separation in short and intermediate zones.
My Take -- Let's be honest. There are times we all cut corners so I won't hold ESPN to the fire for it. I'll just ask nice and quiet....WHERE THE HELL IS TONY SCHEFFLER??? Yes, I know Scheffler is hurt, but to talk about the Broncos TE situation and mention only Graham and Alexander is simply shoddy journalism. I could believe the Broncos were ranked so low until I read the breakdown and saw no mention of Scheffler. I know, I know, Scheffler only had 18 catches last season but 12 of them came in the last 5 games when jay Cutler took over at quarterback. There is no doubt Cutler feels comfortable with Scheffler. The big question is Scheffler's health. Of course, Daniel Graham is going to have a huge year and prove to everyone he is much more than a blocking TE.
26. Oakland Raiders --
The Raiders have gotten little production from the tight end position in recent seasons. They acquired veteran Tony Stewart, a career backup since entering the league in 2001. Stewart has average receiving skills and is considered a more accomplished blocker. Stewart has good size and strength and has been used in goal-line and short-yardage situations most often. The talented Zach Miller, drafted in the second round this year, should give the Raiders' offense a boost. He will likely be thrown into the fire early, but should fare well because he has all the tools to develop into an effective run-blocker and receiver. Fred Wakefield is listed as the third tight end and will provide depth at tight end and on the offensive line. A converted defensive lineman coming out of college, he will be used strictly as a run-blocker.
My Take -- The Raiders have alot of holes, but as much as it pains me to say it they are headed in the right direction with many of them. Zach Miller, a first round talent the Raiders were able to nab early in the 2nd Round, should be a solid rookie and if anything will develop into a solid TE over time. Potential doesn't win football games, however, production does and Miller will have to prove it on the field to move the Raiders up on this list. There isn't much behind Miller making depth a huge questions as well.
Things should have tightened up a bit as far as the averages go. Let's see --
San Diego Chargers -- 31( 7.75)
Denver Broncos -- 48(12.00)
Kansas City Chiefs -- 65(16.25)
Oakland Raiders -- 90(22.50)
No stopping us now....Up next we look at the Offensive Line.